Dec. 28 – Daniel Bowman, Jr. – On the Spectrum [Christmas Calendar]

The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2021
Advent / Christmas Calendar
December 28

 

On the Spectrum:
Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity

Daniel Bowman, Jr.

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2021
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Bowman’s clear prose pays attention to what many writers might skim over (the beauty of Midwestern corn and soybean fields, as in “Living Maps”) or choose to ignore (his embarrassing childhood anxieties). Always his writing is rooted in utter truth, as well as place—a writing conference in Florida, a backroad in Indiana, a monastery in Kentucky. Bowman begins “Prelude” with a story of a family crisis a few years ago that set him on the path of finding his diagnosis. I will let the reader come to this story themselves, but I was startled by Bowman’s honest account: “I don’t want to write this down, now or ever. This is not a story I want to tell myself or anyone else. I want to protect my kids from it, whatever that means. But I need to tell the truth.” Bowman is equally as blunt about his childhood ailments and anxieties, his academic underperformance, and his foibles as an adult. But the text is not just unflinchingly honest, but beautiful. In “Living Maps” Bowman writes about preparing for his move from Upstate New York to Indiana by reading narratives of place, particularly ignored, overlooked places, like the Midwest. He quotes Simone Weil on the land of God being “difficult but possible to love” and makes the connection to his new home: “What is rural Indiana if not just that: difficult yet possible to love, seemingly resistant to our efforts?” Bowman’s careful study of the Midwest, and particularly Indiana, bring to mind John Tarrant’s quote: “Attention is the most basic form of love; through it we bless and are blessed.”

On the Spectrum reminds one, finally, that the neurotypical person looking from the outside cannot predict the present and future sufferings or joys of the autistic person. When my brother was five or ten, we hoped for a medical miracle; we mourned he would never have independence, community, or friends. To our detriment, we resorted to telling his story ourselves. Yet at twenty-eight he is healthy, employed part-time, and finding ongoing success as a Special Olympics athlete. He loves to chop wood and stack rocks he finds in the field and call me to tell me about both. His life has been difficult, but not lacking in joy. With thanks to books like Bowman’s, neurotypical friends, relatives, coworkers, and community members can make life better for an autistic person simply by starting with one simple step: letting them speak for themselves.

 

WATCH an interview with Daniel Bowman, Jr. about this book…


 


 
 

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